Cottage Grove Town, Dane County, Wisconsin

(Profile Revised: October 29, 2020)

The Town of Cottage Grove, population 7,106 (2018), is one of 61 towns, villages, and cities within Dane County, the county that surrounds Madison, Wisconsin. The Town lies just ten miles east of downtown Madison. The Town encompasses the Village of Cottage Grove. The Town lies directly in the path of growth since Madison is within easy commuting distance. Nevertheless, like much of Dane County, the Town of Cottage Grove still consists mainly of farmland, wetlands, and other rural uses.

Cottage Grove’s TDR program encourages the preservation of farmland like this “pick-your-own” orchard.

In 1982, the town established Exclusive Agriculture Zoning, with a maximum density of one unit per 35 acres (subject to the exceptions). In 2000, the Town established a TDR policy designed to encourage the preservation of farmland and also allow farmers the ability to liquidate the development value of their land while still continuing to own the land and receive income from agricultural activities. In addition to farmland preservation, the TDR program was intended to concentrate development near the Village of Cottage Grove and other existing subdivisions as well as maintain a community separator around the Village of Cottage Grove.

During a Pilot Program phase conducted in 2000-2001, TDRs were transferred from two sending sites. Both of these sites were designated in the Town’s Master Plan as important for long-term agriculture and, consequently, appropriate as TDR sending areas. The receiving area for the Pilot Program was a 20-acre parcel zoned RH1 located east of the Village of Cottage Grove. A two-to-one transfer ratio was used.

In 2011, Cottage Grove opted into the Dane County TDR Program and reaffirmed the goals of maintaining rural agricultural character and allowing farmers to realize reasonable non-farm value without dividing their property.

Section 15.15 of the Town Land Division and Planning Code now states that Cottage Grove opts into the Dane County Program as established in Sections 10.304 and 10.305 of the Dane County Zoning Ordinance. Property owners interested in selling Residential Density Units (RDUs) can notify the Town Clerk and Dane County verifies the number of RDUs available for transfer.

In 2011, Cottage Grove also adopted a blanket rezoning of much of the Agricultural Preservation Area to TDR-Sending Overlay District (TDR-S). However, owners of property that were not included in that action can apply to be rezoned to TDR-S. To qualify, these properties must be planned as Agricultural Preservation Area or Open Space and Recreation Area on the Future Land Use Map and have at least one RDU to transfer.

To proceed, owners must record a TDR Agricultural Conservation Easement meeting the requirements of Dane County Zoning Ordinance Sections 10.004 (110) and 10.305(5)(c). At the time of transfer, the sending site must be zoned either FP-35 or FP-1 as well as TDR-S Overlay. Each RDU transferred from a sending site yields eight additional housing units on a receiving site.

Qualified receiving sites must be planned for Neighborhood Development Area or Agricultural Transition Area on the Future Land Use Map. Owners wanting to receive TDRs must have their land rezoned to a residential zoning district and TDR-Receiving Area Overlay Zoning District. The Town Board decides whether or not to grant these rezonings based on eight criteria involving consistency with plans, policies, and compatibility.

In addition to the main TDR program, Cottage Grove allows limited transfers between parcels (non-contiguous as well as contiguous) under common ownership in the Agricultural Preservation Area (with some exceptions). No transfer ratio applies to these transfers. The receiving parcel must be less suitable for agriculture than the sending parcel and the added RDUs cannot exceed the density of the receiving site’s future land use category.